Bell tolls for church concert venue?

Local News News

A former monastic church that has rebranded itself as one of the town’s top music venues says it needs a £2 million revamp.

Grade 1 listed St John the Evangelist Church on Iffley Road was formerly a monastery for the country’s first Anglican monks, but in recent years has been attracting major classical and jazz artists.

The building’s ‘new age’ began last year when it hosted an event in conjunction with Helen and Douglas House entitled ‘Light up a Life’, and in the last year alone, about 50 events have been held at the church. Audiences are also looking forward to classical performers Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, pianist Jenny Lin and jazz legend Fred Hirsch who are due to perform in the future.

Supporters need to raise £2m to conserve the newly opened concert venue and repair the roof of the church.

The church’s supporters have already raised almost £350,000, but much more is needed to be able to repair the roof, restore the painted ceilings and stained-glass windows, along with other essential maintenance.

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Canon Robin Ward, Principal of St Stephen’s House, a Private Hall of the University which owns the site, said: “Although thousands of people travel past on their way to work or to the University Sports Ground, few have ever visited. The church is one of the great undiscovered jewels of Oxford.

“It seemed to us we could meet an important need in Oxford for a mid-sized concert venue that would in turn help us raise the money we require. Now we are faced with finding £2m to conserve the building.”

Other staff at St Stephen’s House agreed that the church was an important music venue in Oxford.

Bursar Michele Smith said: ‘The church will still remain a college chapel and regular worship takes place there every week. But we wanted to share it with the city of Oxford. What we now have is a proper performance space for 400 to 500 people right in the heart of Oxford for local and international performers to stage concerts and arts events.

“The main aim…is to keep the music project expanding and ensuring that the idea of the Church as a concert venue really takes hold in the minds of locals and students alike.”

Development adviser Matthew Butler, added: “It seemed to us important that people get to see the potential of the building, open the place up and get it being used. The response both from Oxford’s music community and artists outside the area has been fantastic.”

The church was built in 1894 for the Cowley Fathers, the very first Anglican monks, after whom Oxford’s vibrant Cowley district is named. It also features a lively history, such as in 1954 when the flag on the church tower was used to measure wind as Roger Bannister prepared to run the first sub-four minute mile.

Along with its current musical orientation, the church is still used on a regular basis as a place of worship by both students and members of the local community. St Stephen’s House, which is involved in training ministers for the Church of England, has been especially involved in the fundraising drive to save the building.

More information on St Stephen’s House’s efforts to save the church can be found on their website at http://www.ssho.ox.ac.uk/about/supporting-st-stephens-house.html

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